What is Intelligence?

Robin Hanson (hanson@hss.caltech.edu)
Sun, 29 Sep 96 13:36:42 PDT

"David Musick" writes:
>Robin Hanson wrote:
>"If we talk about improving brains by giving them better software, i.e. better
>concepts and insights, well that is just brains of the same intelligence who
>know more."
>I heavily disagree with this. ... We all have the ability to increase our
>intelligence by a tremendous amount by constantly developing and refining
>more powerful thinking skills and knowledge.

I was paraphrasing a view I disagree with, so I agree with you.
I should have been clearer - sorry.

Dan Clemmensen writes:
>As it happens, the argumant for a rapid feedback mechanism doesn't
>depend on the whole mechanism of intelligence. It depends on some
>assumptions that are IMO simpler and more obvious:
> 1) Speed and knowledge base are important components of intelligence.
> 2) We will be able to increase the both the speed and the knowlegebase
> of existing humans by using computers and new software and interfaces.
> 3) A more intelligent researcher can develop a better understanding of
> the basis of intelligence, and can therefore increase intelligence
> further, either through better computer hardware and software or by
> other means.
>The get an initial increase from the first two assumptions, which then
>leads to further increases via the third.

I think I've been sloppy in my posts on this topic (especially the post that
Peter McCluskey responded to), so let me try to do better.

The three obvious contributors to the intelligence of the world economy are
population size, the raw speed of human brains, and knowledge (both tacit and
explicit). While there are other constributors, such as some high level
organizational issues, I doubt they are that important, and expect progress
on improving them to be slow.

Knowledge and population have been increasing for some time. As the world
economy grows, the more we know, the better we get at learning more, and the
larger population we can support. And being richer, we've been able to spend
more on research, and on tools to aide research. (Tools are really
artificats that embody knowledge, in my view.)

Computers are just one of those tools, and haven't really aided research much
more than other important tools, like cars and air conditioning. Progress in
computers is driven by the size of the market for computers - the more
computers folks buy, the more researchers are employed, and so the more ideas
get tried out.

Thus we have had a feedback process of growth of knowledge (and tools) and
population for some time. The big change I see looming here is that of
decreases in the cost, and increases in speed, of individual brains with
uploads. And especially the ability to make copies, which decreases the cost
of filling new brains with knowledge (the big limit on our growth rate now).
Since this should drive down the cost of labor, research gets cheaper, and so
more should be done.

As our technology of uploads improves, for the same price we can either make
faster brains or more brains. It is not obvious which option will be more
preferred - the most important thing isn't brain speed but brain cost per
speed. In particular, research may get done by a few very fast very
expensive brains, but I'd guess lots of slower brains to be the usual case.

Anyway, I basically agree that a change we can envision will increase the
growth rate, but I think folks are confused about the root cause. The basic
issue isn't brain speed, nor cost per speed. Human brains are actually
pretty cheap out there at the moment. The big change is lowering the cost of
creating knowledge-filled brains, with upload copies.

If average brain speed goes up as the growth rate, the subjective effect to
the participants may not be that different from today.

(Is all this any clearer Peter?)

Robin D. Hanson hanson@hss.caltech.edu http://hss.caltech.edu/~hanson/